What Are the Compliance Steps for UK Real Estate Developers Under the Biodiversity Net Gain Principle?

Planning for biodiversity net gain (BNG) is becoming an integral part of the development process in the UK. The government is committed to ensuring that new developments deliver an overall increase in biodiversity, meaning that developers will now need to demonstrate how their plans will achieve this. But what exactly does this entail for developers, and how can they ensure they are complying with the regulations? In this article, we will delve deeper into the concept of BNG and outline the critical compliance steps developers must undertake to align with this principle.

Understanding Biodiversity Net Gain

Before delving into the specifics of compliance, it’s important to gain a comprehensive understanding of what BNG means. The UK government introduced the principle of BNG in its 25-Year Plan for the Environment. The objective is to ensure that the environment is left in a measurably better state than before.

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Biodiversity refers to the variety of life found on Earth, encompassing the multitude of animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms, along with their genetic material and the ecosystems they form. The concept of BNG seeks to go beyond simply mitigating environmental damage, requiring developers to improve biodiversity.

Biodiversity Net Gain in The Planning Process

For developers, the principle of BNG has several implications within the planning process. According to the proposed changes in the Environment Bill, developers will need to achieve a 10% increase in biodiversity on or near their development site. This must be demonstrated in a ‘biodiversity gain plan’, submitted alongside the planning application.

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In essence, developers must engage in robust planning to ensure that the development leaves the local biodiversity better off than before. It’s not about merely focusing on onsite measures to preserve habitats. Developers are expected to consider offsite actions and long-term funding strategies to create new habitats or restore existing ones.

Assessing the Biodiversity Value of a Site

The first step in the process of complying with BNG requirements is to conduct an initial biodiversity assessment of the development site. This involves determining the existing biodiversity value of the site, which serves as the baseline against which the net gain will be measured.

This assessment should be guided by local and national biodiversity priorities and must be carried out in consultation with statutory nature conservation bodies and local wildlife organisations. Remember, the goal here is to ensure that your development helps to protect and enhance habitats that are of most significance to the local biodiversity.

Developing a Biodiversity Gain Plan

Once the site’s biodiversity value is established, the next step is to formulate a detailed Biodiversity Gain Plan. This plan should outline the measures that will be taken to achieve a net gain in biodiversity, both onsite and offsite.

The plan should include information about the types of habitats that will be created or enhanced, the methods that will be used, and the expected outcomes. The anticipated gains should be quantified using a metric agreed upon by the local planning authority.

To ensure the long-term success of the Biodiversity Gain Plan, developers may also need to secure a biodiversity gain agreement with the local planning authority. This agreement will outline the developer’s commitments to maintaining and monitoring the habitats created or enhanced by the development.

Gaining Planning Permission

Biodiversity net gain is not just an optional consideration for planning applications but a statutory requirement. Once the Biodiversity Gain Plan has been submitted, the local planning authority will assess it as part of the planning application. If the plan does not demonstrate a 10% net gain in biodiversity, the planning permission may be refused.

Therefore, it’s vital for developers to engage with the BNG principle early in the planning process to avoid potential delays. Engage with local ecological consultants, consider the potential impacts of your development on local biodiversity, and develop robust strategies to deliver a net gain.

Monitoring and Reporting

Once planning permission has been granted and development begins, there’s a continued requirement for monitoring and reporting. Developers will need to demonstrate that the Biodiversity Gain Plan is being implemented effectively and delivering the anticipated benefits.

Monitoring involves regular site inspections and assessments to ensure that the created or enhanced habitats are progressing as expected. Reporting, on the other hand, entails submitting regular reports to the local planning authority to demonstrate compliance with the Biodiversity Gain Plan. Any shortcomings in delivering the expected gains may lead to penalties, so it’s crucial to ensure ongoing compliance with the BNG principle.

All in all, the BNG principle presents a new way of thinking about development and its impact on biodiversity. Embracing this principle will not only ensure compliance with legal requirements but also contribute to creating more sustainable and appealing developments.

Biodiversity Net Gain: A Statutory Requirement in England

As developers recognize the increasing importance of incorporating BNG principles into their projects, it’s critical to note that the UK government has moved to make this practice a legal obligation under the 2021 Environment Bill. The draft legislation stipulates that developers must achieve a statutory biodiversity net gain of 10% on their sites. This landmark legislation makes England the first country to introduce a statutory minimum net gain requirement in planning law.

The legislation outlines that developers will need to quantify their biodiversity gains and losses using a biodiversity metric developed by Natural England. This metric includes habitat type, distinctiveness, condition, and strategic significance, equating these factors into biodiversity units. The legislation also requires developers to maintain the biodiversity net gain for at least 30 years. In the event they cannot deliver this onsite, they must provide compensation in the form of biodiversity credits or offsite habitat improvements.

Following this new town and country planning regulation, developers need to consider this 10% net gain objective early in the planning process, as failure to demonstrate this can lead to refusal of planning permission by the local planning authorities. Thus, it’s essential to plan for net gain as part of the initial project design, rather than as an afterthought.

The Future of Real Estate Development: Biddable Biodiversity

The introduction of the Biodiversity Net Gain principle marks a significant leap in integrating sustainability with real estate development. It encourages developers to view biodiversity not as an obstacle to development but as an asset that can enhance project value and appeal.

With the UK government’s commitment to the 25 Year Environment Plan and the statutory requirement for BNG, developers have a crucial role in ensuring our built environments contribute positively to biodiversity. Going beyond legal compliance, developers adopting BNG can position themselves as industry leaders in sustainability and gain a competitive edge in the market.

The incorporation of the biodiversity net gain principle is not without its challenges. However, it presents an opportunity for the real estate development sector to redefine its relationship with the natural environment. By doing so, developers can make a significant contribution to halting biodiversity loss, promoting ecosystem resilience, and ultimately creating places that people and nature thrive.

Implementing the BNG principle effectively will require collaboration among developers, planning authorities, ecological consultants, and local communities. But the long-term benefits – a healthier environment, more sustainable cities, and enhanced property value – could well be worth the initial efforts and investments.

To conclude, understanding and integrating the Biodiversity Net Gain principle into development planning is no longer an option for UK real estate developers; it is a fundamental requirement. The future of real estate lies in developments that not only coexist with but contribute positively to their natural surroundings. With the right planning, commitment, and collaboration, the real estate sector can play a significant role in preserving and enhancing the UK’s precious biodiversity.

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